Whited Sepulchers

A moving condemnation of New York's new infanticide law.

I have been hearing defenders say that the only women who would seek an abortion at nine months are those whose child poses a mortal threat to them. The argument is that the child must be removed for the mother's health, and is probably dying itself anyway. If so, you could see an argument that some sort of abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother, and the child cannot be saved; and in that case, at least utilitarians would think it unethical not to abort. (Catholics, of course, are taught that it is never right to do an evil action, even to prevent another evil.)

However, this study of later term abortions suggests that medical reasons aren't really the main reason.
Later abortion recipients experienced logistical delays (e.g., difficulty finding a provider and raising funds for the procedure and travel costs), which compounded other delays in receiving care. Most women seeking later abortion fit at least one of five profiles: They were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.
"Nulliparous," if you don't want to look it up, means that they've never delivered a baby before.

Now this study is for 'after 20 weeks,' rather than 'nine months,' but it's interesting that "experiencing a medical emergency" isn't even one of the five profiles.

As I think of Mike's point, I wonder how this law could be constitutional. The 14th Amendment says "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside" and that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Once the birth occurs, the argument that 'it's the woman's body, so it's her choice' clearly does not apply; and the child, having been born, is a citizen due the protection of the laws.

Unless, of course, the child is not a person. That's been the dodge all along.


douglas said...

Just to be a little clearer on the Catholic teaching on the matter- the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the phrase "double effect" once in the following statement, basing the statement of the teaching of Thomas Aquinas:

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

So a medical procedure that will save a mother in grave fear of loss of life, but will, not as it's intended purpose, terminate the pregnancy, is permitted. For instance, the surgical removal of a damaged fallopian tube as the result of an ectopic pregnancy, which is intended to cure the mother of a life threatening ailment, but which does not have as it's intended purpose to abort- is permitted. That's the classic example given.

Now, consider a more traditional case of self defense- man pulls a gun on you and looks like he's going to shoot you- you're able to pull your gun and shoot back, killing him. In shooting back, you seek to incapacitate him to prevent his killing you, you don't (directly) seek to kill him- you seek to preserve your life- though of course you know it may well kill him. Now, it seems to me that in the exceedingly rare case where a mother is seriously threatened by her pregnancy, why is a D&C not allowed. Everything I've read says it is not because the intent is to end the pregnancy, but isn't the prime intent to save the life of the mother, and the death of the baby is the unfortunate, even if fully known in advance- result? Isn't that also the case in the ectopic pregnancy situation, which is usually given as the model for that exception? You know in advance it will kill the baby. I'm not sure I see the line distinguishing one from another here.

All that said, it's mostly a moot point because these cases are in fact so rare, but arguing on twitter about this with pro-abortion people has had me thinking about it quite a bit.

Christopher B said...


Though I'm not a Catholic or theologian (nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn last night), I think the distinction turns on the certainty and imminence of death, and whether other options are available to control the situation.

No one would think you were justified in shooting a man openly carrying a holstered gun merely on the supposition that he could pull the gun on you. Many would argue that you aren't justified even if he's making threats but hasn't made a move for his gun. Not until the threat becomes imminent and his gun is in his hand do we begin to think you would be justified in taking the action of shooting him.

I think the abortion example is similar. Certainly the ectopic pregnancy is terminated but there is no other option to save the woman, as well as the death of the mother being the death of the baby conceived in that fashion which I think is a consideration. Gestational diabetes is also a life-threatening condition but I don't think most pro-life people would consider it a justification for abortion because it can be controlled through other means. There are probably other rare situations where the life of a pregnant woman is in immediate danger and terminating the pregnancy is either necessary or a choice must be made between the two.

Texan99 said...

The analogy I sometimes try to draw is, under what conditions would we be justified in killing and separating one conjoined twin in order to save the life of the other? I can think of only two situations that would leave the survivors able to live with themselves, if only barely: one twin knows he is dying and commits suicide to save the other, or one twin is dying and in a vegetative state, unable to make decisions.

There are things other people can sacrifice for us that we can never simply demand of them by force.

I won't claim this analysis helps in the case of a very early pregnancy, because we all disagree too much about the full humanity of a just-fertilized egg or an extremely unformed fetus. But it seems to me that it's quite close to being on the mark for a nearly full-term baby.

I have a friend whose mother carried her to full term after receiving a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, knowing she'd have to risk delaying treatment and willingly doing so. Before she'd even met her daughter she was willing to die for her. That's a mother.

Grim said...


So I didn't go into the "Doctrine of Double Effect" (DDE) because I thought, after all the Just War Theory posts over the years, you would all be tired of hearing me talk about it. But maybe it's worth going through one more time.

There are two separate tests that have to be met for DDE to justify a harm. The first one is discrimination, and the second is proportionality. Proportionality doesn't come into play if the child's death saves the mother's life, but it might if the child is being killed for a lesser reason (e.g., to make the mother's abusive boyfriend happy).

Discrimination is going to be the real problem. An act is discriminate under DDE if and only if the evil being done is neither the end of the action nor the means to the end. The test for that is: if I do the act, and the harm is by miracle avoided, will I be happy with the outcome?

For example: I bomb a military target that has been perfidiously located in a hospital, and by miracle no innocents are killed while the military target is destroyed. Since I will be happy with this outcome, we can see that destroying the hospital and killing its patients was neither my end nor my means to my end.

There are a number of these cases in which killing the child is at minimum the means to the end. There may be some cases in which killing the child is the end (in fact, the rape/incest cases -- which are often thought more defensible -- are sometimes of this type). Even if it is merely the means to the end, though, so the mother could not be satisfied with the result if the child survived and was adopted, the act cannot satisfy DDE.

The VA governor's cases, in which the child is already delivered before being killed, fails on proportionality. Once the child is delivered, there is nothing to put on the other side of the scale. The mother, delivered of the child, no longer needs to take any action against the child's body to protect herself. The case may also fail on discrimination, and indeed is likely to do so: if the child is being killed to avoid its being a burden as its survival would entail, for example.

Texan99 said...

The severely disabled child is an obstacle to the mother's wellbeing even after it is safely delivered, because the crux of the problem for her is the horrendous burden of raising a disabled child. She would have been happier if it had simply died naturally, as unobtrusively as possible. We can all sympathize very, very deeply with the staggering burden she was facing, but this is what we're talking about doing to solve it: it's straight-up euthanasia.

Texan99 said...

And, to be more charitable, the parents may genuinely believe it's cruel to let a child in that condition live, which is the other argument for euthanasia.

douglas said...

Thanks. I was thinking about this at work today, and I realized that the issue with the D&C is that there is zero chance of survivability, whereas even in emptying your Glock into a man, there is some chance he could survive.

Now, clearly, the Governor's example is indefensible, but let me go back to the ectopic pregnancy, which seems to be the classic example given to illustrate DDE and justified termination of pregnancy. Apparently, there is disagreement amongst ethicists about some methods of resolving an ectopic pregnancy, but not others (salpingectomy). Reading the arguments, I can see why- it's fuzzy. This paper from the National Catholic Bioethics Center is quite good, but is ultimately inconclusive- apparently so is the Magisterium. So it seems, it's between you and God ultimately.

I have to say that some of the arguments for not accepting certain methods seem to me to be overly restrictive, so I think I'd find myself lining up with the ethicists that see some methods as allowable (and not only salpingectomy, but at least salpingotomy as well). the distinctions being made don't, to me, seem to be materially different, but rather more of a semantic distinction that ignores the reality.

One thing is for sure- it's a difficult issue, but those cases where it's even a possibility are also quite rare.

Ymarsakar said...

(Catholics, of course, are taught that it is never right to do an evil action, even to prevent another evil.

That argument falls apart once people ask Catholics what their catechism on the Albigensians and Church Tradition says.

The opinion of apparently the mainstream is quite logical... for a jihadist at least.